Last August, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed Public Act 98-1050 into law. The Act, effective January 1 and referred to as the Pregnancy Fairness law, represents a major change in protections for pregnant workers seeking employment or already in the workplace.
The Act amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to include pregnancy as a protected class. “Pregnancy” is defined as “pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.” 775 ILCS 5/1-103(L-5). As a result, the Act covers not only pregnancy and childbirth but also applies after the child is born.
The Act requires that employers obtain and post notices regarding the Act and employees’ rights under it. This doesn’t mean that you hang up a poster somewhere at work, but review job descriptions to make sure that they comport with the new Act. Now that pregnancy is a protected class under the Act, you should state that pregnant workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations, and state what they are so that there isn’t confusion. It is up to the employer to determine what is reasonable under the circumstances of the job.
A reasonable accommodation for a pregnant employee could be to allow more than the required 12 weeks of leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. This is a change from what occurred before. This is a big change from what occurred before. Now the 12 weeks is a minimum, and not a maximum. Under the Act, pregnancy-related health issues can trigger additional employer obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Many small businesses in Illinois have been exempt from federal labor protection laws due to their size. The Act provides no such exception for smaller employers. This broad coverage is necessary to protect the interests of pregnant workers. In the past, employers were able to for a leave of absence on pregnant women because they were unable to perform minor job tasks. Now, an accommodation requirement is something you might be discussing with the pregnant worker to determine what a reasonable accommodation would be. It is not something that is forced on employees.